County officials on Thursday presented ambitious plans for turning the North Fork Preserve into a full-fledged county park once the 306-acre private hunting compound in the hamlet of Northville is purchased through a joint acquisition by Suffolk County and the Town of Riverhead.
The Riverhead Town Board is expected to approve the town’s $500,000 contribution towards the purchase at its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 20. The County Legislature is expected to approve the county’s contribution of approximately $17.5 million at its meeting on Nov. 11.
Once the property becomes public property, as expected by the end of the year, the town would begin losing $25,000 a year in property taxes and the school system would lose about $60,000, according to Councilman George Gabrielsen.
To offset the revenue loss, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio raised the possibility of asking the county to reimburse the town with a PILOT payment – a payment in lieu of taxes – but Supervisor Sean Walter said the prospects for that were dim.
He said that had already broached the idea with County Legislator Ed Romaine – who represents the North Fork and was a prime sponsor of the acquisition – and was told that the county has never in the past provided PILOT payments in connection with open space acquisitions.
Once work begins, Nicholas Gibbons of the county’s parks commission said that plans call for dividing the preserve into distinct two parcels.
In a presentation at Thursday's Town Board work session, he said the southern 175 acres that run along Sound Avenue would be used for active recreation.
The 125 acres to the south that run along Sound Shore Road -- and are environmentally sensitive -- would be open only to passive recreation, including hiking and bird watching, with nothing altered on the land.
The active recreation portion, he said, would feature an area for recreational vehicle camping, with 75 RV sites equipped with electrical service. It would also have three separate sections for tent camping, with 10 to 12 campsites each.
Unlike at Indian Island County Park, he said tent campers would be separated from RV campers.
There would also be a special area for youth camping by Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops, 4H clubs and church groups, with five or six lean-to structures. In addition, 18 cabins – some heated, some not – would be built for use by county residents year round for bow hunting and the like.
Plans also include a large picnic area for day trips, several all-purpose playing fields and a number of basketball courts. Also planned is kayaking on one of the preserve’s large ponds, with a structure built for kayak rentals and storage.
Gibbons emphasized that, recent rumors to the contrary, there would be no area set aside for trap and skeet shooting and that all-terrain- vehicles, or ATVs, would be prohibited throughout the 306 acres.
He also stressed that the only entrance to the park would be from Sound Avenue. This may relieve concerns that members of the Northville Beach Civic Association expressed at a public hearing last month that a second entrance would be built along Sound Shore Road.
Though the purchase is expected to close by the end of the year, Pamela Greene, director of the county’s division of real property acquisition and management, emphasized that it would be at least 10 years before any work on developing the land into a park could begin.
She attributed the delay to the county’s budget problems, saying it will take years for the county’s capital budget to be replenished enough to accommodate any new projects.
She noted that completing a master plan for the property would itself take a minimum of three years and would entail holding public hearings to allow residents to weigh in with their input.
Though work on the park won’t begin for a decade or so, Gibbons said that a caretaker would be hired in the next couple of months to reside full time and year round on the property to tend to normal maintenance, including law mowing and brush clearing, as well as to guard against trespassers.
He explained that part of the clubhouse already existing at the preserve would be turned into an apartment for the caretaker and his or her family.